Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán shares his reflections & experiences.

Archive for 2010/07


It’s never too late to answer the call

I hope everyone had a very happy Independence Day holiday!

As I always do this time of year, I am taking a few days of vacation.   So, I have asked one of our newly ordained priests, Father Guy Sciacca to share his story with you. He was one of three men we ordained in May at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Father Guy studied at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary, a seminary located within our Archdiocese that is dedicated to the formation of men who answer the call to the priesthood later in life.

I think his story is a great illustration of the idea that it is never too late to answer the call of the Lord. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

My Journey to Priesthood

My journey to the priesthood is one of many ups and downs. It is one of childhood wonder, a time of aridity; and a time of conversion, peace, and gratitude. A vocation to the priesthood, like any vocation, has its beginnings in the family. Mine was no different. I guess my journey to the priesthood could be characterized as one of “restless curiosity.”

Guy Sciacca

I remember when I was a young boy, my mom used to take us to Church on Sundays. I was one of seven, so either we would go as a group or sometimes she would just take me. This was the pre-Vatican II early 50’s. The Mass was still in the Tridentine Rite. Anyway, I remember, quite vividly, being at Mass with my mom one Sunday. I was about seven years old. It was the Consecration. The priest was elevating the host and I tugged on my mother’s sleeve and said: “ I want to do that.” I was told to be quiet and pay attention. This, I believe was the beginning of my vocation and my discernment process.

At age 9, I became an altar boy. I remember diligently studying the card with the Latin Mass responses written out phonetically. My brother, who was two years older than I, was also an altar boy, and he helped me study. I enjoyed learning the responses and going to the altar boy meetings every Saturday but I was never given much of an opportunity to actually serve, since the altar boy “pool” in those days was so large. Be that as it may, I was happy knowing that I was part of a very special group.

Both my parents were immigrants. My father came from Sicily when he was a young boy and my mother was Irish-Canadian. Both my parents were people of deep faith. They knew how important religion is in daily life and they did their best to make sure that their children learned this lesson from the very beginning. They instilled in all their children a great respect for the Church, the sacraments, and the clergy. As young children we would go to confession every other week. My mother loved her novenas.

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Family and friends celebrate my ordination

In the front: my 8th grade teacher Sister Mary Mills, CSJ; and my sister Josephine. In the back: my brother and his wife, Vincent and MaryAnn; and my sister Ann

In those days we had the Novena of Grace every year and she would bring me along. Eventually I just went on my own. I received a Catholic education from Grade 1 through Grade 12. My role models from early childhood through high school and beyond were my parish priests.

I grew up in Saint Joseph Parish in Medford. Looking back, I have to say that it was there that I received religious formation, guidance, support, and care from some of the finest priests I have ever known. The parish priests were men we looked up to and admired. Saint Joseph’s is a large parish and we lived about two blocks from the Church. It seemed, however, that our priests knew us personally. It seemed to us, anyway, that they knew what we were doing, when we were not doing what was expected of us, and when we were. In short, they cared.

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I was educated in elementary school by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston. During these years the Sisters, along with our parish priests, tried to foster vocations in us. They planted the seed and did their best to make sure that vocations blossomed. While I still had the desire to follow a vocation to the priesthood, as I advanced in the elementary grades to junior high, the idea was placed more and more in the back of my mind. Something was still there, an indescribable desire to do something for the Lord. I didn’t quite know what it was, so being a typical junior high student, didn’t pay too much attention to it; however, even in a young heart, restlessness can exist. I would describe my years at Saint Joseph’s School as happy and safe.

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In 1963 it was time to move on to high school. I attended Christopher Columbus Catholic High School in the North End of Boston. There, the Franciscan Friars of the Province of the Immaculate Conception educated me. The friars also saw something in me that indicated that there might be a vocation to the priesthood. They tried their best to move me in that direction; but being a teenager, at that time I was more interested in having fun than in thinking about anything as serious as becoming a priest. I would say that I was an average high school student – more interested in having fun than in paying attention to studies or any inner stirrings that might be calling me to a life of service. So, in 1967 I graduated from Christopher Columbus High, with Richard Cardinal Cushing presenting me my high school diploma at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

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After graduation, like most young people that age, I knew everything there was to know. Rather than move right on to college, I decided to enter the work force, much to the chagrin of my parents. So, I worked for a couple of years in the Foreign Tax Department of the First National Bank of Boston. Boy, did I feel important! It’s funny how the Lord uses people to somehow rekindle the yearnings of the human heart. The restlessness was there and it was noticed. A very kind supervisor made me see that I was capable of so much more than sitting behind a desk in a bank; so he urged me to pursue my education.

Isn’t it funny how sometimes we are more apt to follow the advice of strangers than that of our own family?

So, my journey now took me to North Adams State College. This was in the early 70’s. One can only imagine what kind of time that was. I was a good student and made good grades. However, it was also party time. This was a time of fun and freedom — if you can call it that. The thought of vocation and priesthood moved further and further into the background, while the thought of fun and adventure moved to the foreground. This was a time when getting ahead was all that mattered to any of us. I must admit that the restlessness was still there. I never felt quite fulfilled in my new chosen profession as teacher. Upon graduation from college, I taught for a while in the secondary school system. I taught English and French. After a period of time I decided that this wasn’t enough and I search for something more. I remained in the education field.

I worked at Boston State College in the Registrar’s Office and earned a Master of Education degree while there. I spent some time living in Europe – in France. Still there was a feeling of restlessness within me, which I couldn’t explain. I decided that I wanted to stay in higher education administration. Eventually, I became Assistant Registrar. When the college merged with the University of Massachusetts, I was taken over there to be one of the Assistant Registrars. After several years of working in higher education administration, the Lord gently tapped me on the shoulder and reawakened the call to a priestly vocation.

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In the mid-1980’s I entered the Dominican Order. I remained with the Dominicans for four years. After discerning that life as a religious order priest was not for me, I left in 1990. So, I returned to Massachusetts and obtained a job working at Harvard University. Once again, I was back in Higher Education Administration. Once again, also, any idea of a priestly vocation was put on the back burner – only this time, for a longer period of time, and for much more serious reasons. I am convinced now, more than ever, that the Lord tests us to make us stronger – both in our faith and in our vocation.

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In 1991, one of my sisters, with whom I was very close, was tragically killed – the victim of domestic violence. This caused me to question my trust in the Church, and my faith in God. Totally alienating myself from the Church and from God for nine-and-a- half years, I lived a life completely devoid of religion. At that point in my life I wanted nothing to do with God. Praise God he didn’t feel the same way about me. There are times in our lives when the Lord puts certain people in our lives for specific purposes and reasons. Sometimes we need help in seeing clearly what the will of God for us is and discerning what his purpose for us is. After more than 9 years of bitterness, anger, resentment, and fear, with the help of a very kind and loving parish priest, the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, gently brought me back where I belonged.

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Even in my darkest times, I always found great comfort and peace praying to Our Lady. I know in my heart that she is responsible for my conversion, for like any good mother, she gently but firmly led me back to her Son. Still, the restlessness was there, but all the things that life threw my way covered it up. With the help of a compassionate Spiritual Director, I was able to face my anger, resentment, and fear. After 3 or 4 years of spiritual direction and discovering Ignatian Spirituality, I was able to finally embrace my true vocation. I was now free enough to welcome the Lord into my heart. This heightened my feeling of restlessness. I was grateful to the Lord for giving back to me what I had thrown away. Psalm 116 says it so much more adequately than I could: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” So, after a long period of discernment and prayer, the final and most exciting and fulfilling part of my journey began.

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On August 29, 2006, I entered Blessed John XXIII National Seminary. I can still remember my first day. I pulled up to the back of the building and there were about 3 or 4 upper classmen waiting to help me unload the car and move in. When I entered the seminary building, a feeling of peace and serenity came over me that I had not known before. I attribute this to the fact that I had finally let go and was now cooperating with God’s grace. His plan was my desire and my desire was His plan — to serve Him and His people by being an example of His love, mercy, and compassion.

I have to admit that not all four years at Blessed John were smooth sailing. There were ups and downs, as there are in any situation where you place 60 –80 different personalities together. But every friendship forged, every relationship made, every course taken — and yes, every obstacle overcome — have all contributed to the working out of God’s plan for my life. The restlessness has subsided because as Saint Augustine says: “…our hearts are restless until they rest in thee…” I now enjoy resting in the love of Jesus Christ for me, and the many blessings he has bestowed upon me. I pray that I may be a good, humble priest.

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Celebrating daily Mass at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Chelmsford

For me, priesthood means giving back to God through His people, what was so freely given to me. I have always loved the writings of Saint Augustine. On the back of my ordination holy card I have two quotes from different writings of Saint Augustine. One of them reads as follows: “…for those who make generous use of what they have received he will supplement and increase what he has given…” This is taken from his work, “On Christian Teaching.”

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With some of our great parishioners

I believe that the heart of a priest must  be a generous heart. A priest must have a heart generous not only in giving freely what he has received, but a heart generous in willingness to share in the joys, sorrows, and brokenness of the people to whom he ministers. May the Lord grant me the privilege and honor to serve His people with such a heart – a heart of compassion!